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Upper East Side's Biggest Bike Advocate is Only 13

By Amy Zimmer | December 20, 2010 2:51pm

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE — Clark Vaccaro is passionate about bicycling and the need for protected bike lanes.

He’s spoken publicly in support of the issue, so far at six community board meetings in three different neighborhoods and at a City Hall hearing in December.

It may not be unusual to see a rabidly pro-cyclist speaking out. But this Upper East Sider just turned 13.

Clark hadn't even turned 5 when he went on his first big bike ride with his dad, Steve Vaccaro. They rode from their former home in Long Island City and across the Queensboro Bridge; Clark was on training wheels.

Together, they’ve traveled mainly by bike since Clark turned eight, cycling daily to Clark’s private school, the Calhoun School, on the Upper West Side, through all weather except sleet.

"It combines the efficiency of a car or bus or public transit with the up close experience of a pedestrian with the added benefit of exercise," Clark said of his transportation mode.

A commute that would take 35 minutes by mass transit, only takes 15 minutes by bike, the seventh grader pointed out.

One might think seeing a kid (albeit a very tall and well-spoken one) might disarm anti-bike factions at public meetings. But Clark said he has had his share of hecklers, whether at the Upper West Side’s Community Board 7 — where he voiced support for the new Columbus Avenue bike lane he uses to get to school — or at the East Side’s Community Board 6, calling to extend the bike lanes on First and Second avenues up to 125th Street, and even on his home turf at Community Board 8 meetings.

"Some pedestrians and some motorists are very hostile toward cyclists," Clark said.

He and his father, who is a lawyer and chair of Transportation Alternatives' East Side Volunteer Committee, bond over their love of biking and antipathy toward cars. On a recent evening on the Upper East Side, they voiced their distaste for the two yellow Hummers a resident parked on the street, and Clark snapped a picture with his smart phone of what he thought was a ridiculous sight: an oversized SUV with the vanity plates "Muthaship" trying to squeeze into a space.

"It’s a way of life on the Upper East Side. People identify with having a car," Steve Vaccaro said. "We have a different concept of living in the city."

Both worry that wrong-way riding deliverymen or spandex-clad cyclists speeding through lights tarnish bike-loving families like theirs.

Already, the area's 19th Precinct has issued the most summonses for cyclists in the city, Steve Vaccaro said.

Last year, the duo had to change Clark’s school route through Central Park after signs explicitly prohibiting biking emboldened parkgoers — especially dog walkers — to enforce the rules. They hurled insults at Steve Vaccaro’s parenting and acted aggressively toward Clark, who was legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk until he turned 13, but choose not to, saying people didn't want him there.

They now ride on the 96th Street Transverse through the park, often alongside speeding cars.

Central Park Conservancy head Doug Blonsky has said he is working to create shared paths for bikers.

Clark is eager to start riding to school un-chaperoned, but his dad is reluctant until the Central Park bike paths are created.

Clark understands, which is why he has pushed for physically separated lanes citywide.

"More protected bike paths mean that I can soon begin riding on my own," he recently told the City Council.